know, knowledge

    1.      The ability to predict the outcome of a specific experiment precisely.

    2.      Error-free foretelling.

    Plato defined knowledge as ‘justified true belief’ (JTB), and his successors have not improved on
    his proposal in 2000 years. Indeed, it is relying on Plato’s JTB definition that religionists manage to
    persuade the pushover that they ‘know’ God (by which they mean that they know of God’s existence).
    The reasoning goes something like this:

    1. Knowledge is belief.
    2. I believe in God.
    3. Therefore, I know that God exists.

    However, this version reduces all knowledge to subjective opinions and is impossible to use
    consistently.

    For instance,

    1. Knowledge is belief
    2. I don’t believe in God.
    3. Therefore, I know God doesn’t exist.

    So what have we learned? Clearly, JTB is an inadequate definition in a scientific context. And this is
    where we are today in the ongoing debate between theists and atheists.

    A good approach for arriving at a definition of knowledge that we can use consistently in a dissertation
    is to brainstorm the properties we typically associate with this formidable word. Knowledge seems to
    enjoy three essential features. It alludes to:

    1. what you demonstrate to others
    2. in a single experiment,
    3. and to the future rather than to the past.

    The way you demonstrate knowledge to someone is by predicting what is going to happen in a
    specific experiment. And before you can make a prediction in front of an impartial jury, you must
    run the entire film in your head first. You have to visualize the experiment from beginning to end,
    including its result. In Science, we allude to this visualization as an explanation. You are giving us
    your version of how a physical event we are all familiar with happened. A prosecutor acts as his
    own juror.

    For example, Hank Morgan, Twain’s Connecticut Yankee, saved his skin by ‘predicting’ unequivocally
    that an eclipse would occur. He knew!  I can predict that this pencil is going to fall to the center of the
    Earth when I let go of it. If my prediction comes true, then in retrospect I knew! And you can probably
    predict that it’s going to rain in the next few minutes when you see certain types of clouds in the sky.
    If it rains, you knew! If not, you didn’t. You merely had a hunch. You risked an intelligent or lucky guess
    based on experience and it proved to be wrong.

    In other words, the way to certify knowledge is to make a specific prediction and then prove it
    objectively with an experiment or by observing the phenomenon. We test knowledge with a single
    experiment. If we were to attempt to determine knowledge with a series of experiments, we would
    have to run the test incessantly and then some more. There would be no possibility of knowledge
    because the definition would leave a loophole.

    For example, it is unscientific to say that you know that gravity will ALWAYS pull this pen to the center
    of the Earth when you let go of it. We have no way of testing your statement within our lifetimes. We
    can only test whether you know that this pen will fall to the floor if we let go of it NOW. This is a black
    and white, yes or no type of issue. The pen either falls to the ground or doesn’t and, in retrospect, you
    either knew or you didn’t. This definition summarily circumscribes knowledge to future, specific events.

    The skeptic and devil’s advocate will reply that the attributes I just identified – future, single experiment,
    to others – do not enable us to discern between authentic knowledge and lucky or intelligent guesses.
    What if you were merely speculating and it turns out that you just got lucky? What if we run another
    identical experiment and the results are different? It certainly seems that the only foolproof way to tell
    the difference between knowledge and guess is through a series of repeatable experiments. For
    example, you may claim to know that this pen is always going to fall to the ground. But we cannot be
    absolutely sure that this is true unless we run many experiments. So how many should we run before
    we certify knowledge?

    Actually, let’s get to the point: there is no such thing as knowledge. No person can factor or consider
    all the variables that may affect an experiment. We simply cannot predict the future precisely whether
    we run one or many trials. For example, the mathematicians at NASA calculated the exact itinerary of
    the Challenger and predicted that the shuttle would go into orbit. Obviously, the Fates had other plans
    for it. In retrospect, the mathematicians at the control center were not predicting, but rather speculating.
    They did not have every bit of information necessary to tell you exactly what would transpire.

    So now, let’s do the pen experiment 10 times just to reinforce this argument. You make a prediction
    immediately before each trial and we run the experiment. We do this nine times and you predict
    successfully that the pen falls to the floor. On our last run, we let go of the pen, but it miraculously
    stays floating in the air. Now we have confirmed that you didn’t really know. You were just guessing
    all along. While you are still pondering this miracle, I disclose my secret to you. The reason the pen
    stayed in the air was that I asked a friend of mine to turn on a strong electromagnet during that final
    trial, a factor you didn’t ‘know’ about.

    You may argue that my prank proved nothing. We all ‘know’ that gravity pulls everything down.

    However, your statement is unscientific because it is not specific enough. We have no way of testing
    it. It is irrational to run tests incessantly to empirically prove or confirm your categorical claim. The
    objective facts are that you failed to predict 100% of the times. Consider, for instance, what if the pen
    had stayed in the air without my friend's intervention? What if Mother Nature decides to play a trick
    on us? What if this phenomenon is one of her laws or one of those rare exceptions to one of her laws?
    What will this say about your ability to predict and about your absolute ‘knowledge’ of gravity? You
    didn't prove that you know. You proved that you can guess intelligently (i.e., speculation based on
    experience).

    Nevertheless, an individual may have all the material facts under his control (weight, speed, variables),
    but never control the actions of living entities. You may allege to 'know' or predict that your son is
    going to eat the candy you leave on the table, perhaps because you 'know' him so well. This is not
    knowledge, but again just a guess. What if we check later and discover that he did not eat the candy.
    Maybe he wasn't hungry or he was sidetracked by something else or an earthquake opened the floor
    beneath him and swallowed him before he swallowed the candy. What does this say about your
    alleged 'knowledge.' Your ability to predict was objectively refuted.

    In Science, there is no such thing as knowledge simply because scientists don't do predictions. To
    know not only means that the 'knower' has already made up his mind, but that he can't retroactively
    change it. Otherwise, he did not 'know' when he claimed that he 'knew'. He was just guessing and
    guessed wrong.

    Only idiots known as relativists do predictions. However, like astrologers and palm readers, these
    individuals are not a part of Science. Science is the body of explanations that follow the scientific
    method. There is no provision for experiments or for Mathematics in the definition of Science. In
    Science, we don't prove. In Science, we explain. Science is the ability to explain; not the ability to
    predict. The Romans mistakenly used the word scire ('to know') or scientia ('knowledge') in the
    context of an explanation (i.e., a consum-mated event). This is where we got side-tracked in our
    definitions of Science and knowledge.

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        Copyright © by Nila Gaede 2008